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goat keeping, health information

Milking

You may also want to read these pages because the subjects are very closely related:

Milk Related Questions & Answers:

The milking process

Taste

When people visit our farm who have not tasted goat milk before I always offer them a taste. It is amusing how they often react. They squintch up their noses and make a face and say no thank you. I never force people to do something they do not wish to, but I do ask them again, just try a little... please. If they say OK, I offer then a small glass of cold fresh raw milk and they slowly take it (it's amazing how the scenario is almost always exactly the same). They slowly put the glass to their lips, acting as though they are about to taste a glass of bad runny yogurt with a fly floating in it. They take a sip. Then, the look on their face changes. Their eyes widen and they say (always the same thing) "It tastes just like milk."

Goat milk does not taste "bad" or "goaty" or is something that you should have to "get used to". Properly handled goat milk is sweet and delicious, tasting just like whole cow milk from the grocery store (if not better). It should not be bitter, bad tasting, "goaty" or "bucky".

If you try pasteurized goat milk purchased at the grocery store, take note that this tastes nothing like "real" raw goat milk right out of the goat.

If your goat's milk is "off" there must be a reason.
Reasons the goat's milk is not tasting correct could be:

  • The goat kidded recently and still is producing colostrum. A doe can continue to produce some colostrum in her milk for up to two weeks after kidding.
  • The milk is not being handled properly; it must be chilled as quickly as possible right after milking. Please refer to Milk handling & sanitation.
  • The milk is getting contaminated in some way.
  • Your your buck and does live together (this is not advised- read about bucks). Buck have a distinctive order during breeding season.  This smell gets on everything he comes in contact with and can get in the milk of the does he lives with.  This gives the milk a "bucky taste" which is what has given goat milk a bad rap. If you do not keep your buck and does together, the buck smell will not get in the milk.
  • There is something in what the goat is eating that is effecting the milk.
  • The goat is ill.
  • That particular single goat just always produces bitter, or bad tasting milk. Sometime it is the case, that the individual goat just doesn't make milk that tastes good. In all our years of raising goats, we have had 2 does here that made bitter milk, but they did not pass this trait on to their daughters. This is why you should taste the milk from a milk goat before purchasing her.
  • The doe is a Toggenburg or has Togg blood. Toggs were originally bred to produce milk for cheesemaking and their milk can be on the "strong" side, which does not always taste good for drinking.

Will what the goat eats effect the flavor of the milk?

While what a goat eats could very well effect the flavor of it's milk, I'll tell you that I have never had any of the milk from any of my does taste altered because of what they ate. They say that the strong flavor of plants such as onions and garlic could get into the milk. We have onion grass and mints of various sorts as well as many other herbs growing on our goat land and I have never had any of my goat's milk effected. I worm my goats with my Herbal Worm Formula, and even though this does contain garlic, it has never changed the flavor of the milk. The more important thing regarding milk taste is how the milk is handled and that you do not keep a buck with your does. Those two things have much more effect on the taste of the milk than eating fresh pasture and browse. In my opinion, pasture & varied browse are essential to the holistic health of the animal.

Fresh Milk storage & Freezing MIlk

Glass is the best for fresh milk storage because it's easily cleaned and sterilized.  I use 2 qt. and gallon glass jars (1 gallon pickle jars), though I used to use 1 qt. wide mouth mason jars.  I liked the wide mouth jars because I can fit my hand into them the really scrub them and get them clean. I liked quart mason jars very much when I first started milking, but now I have so much milk to store, I've had to switch to the bigger jars. Plastic cannot be properly cleaned and sterilized. Never reuse milk jugs from the store; they cannot be cleaned well enough at all and will contaminate your fresh milk.

Here's how I store milk for use during the winter:

I just pour the milk into new quart Ziploc freezer bags (still warm from the goat) and stack them freezer. Use REAL Ziploc bags because "off brands" tend to leak. DO NOT freeze in glass! Glass is extremely dangerous, it can break very easily in the freezer (as the milk expands as it freezes).  Never freeze in milk jugs from the store; they cannot be cleaned well enough at all and will contaminate your milk. When you thaw your milk (in the Ziploc bags) be ready for the bags to leak, they almost always do. Put the bags in a dish as you thaw the milk. I thaw in the fridge, on the counter and sometimes in the microwave. Thawed milk can have "clumps" in it sometimes, but it is nothing to worry about. I find frozen milk will keep fine 6 - 8 months in the deep freeze.

The Milking Cycle- Milk yield information

The natural cycle of milking:
When a goat freshens (gives birth) she starts lactating (making milk). Her production will slowly increase over the next two months (as her kids grow and their need for milk increases). Then her milk production levels off (because the kids are now eating browse as well as milk). Then slowly the milk production decreases (as the kids' milk needs go down and doe slowly weans the kids). Then, once she breeds again, she weans her kid totally and dries up, so that she can now prepare for her next kid. This usually gives her 4-5 months off from lactation before she kids again.

Left to her natural cycle, the doe dries off sooner than when she is being milked twice a day by a human. If being milked by a human, she should be allowed at least two months off before she kids again. (We give our goats 4-5 months off)

To keep a doe producing a large amount of milk, she needs to be milked daily (so that she has a steady demand on her for milk, which stimulates her to keep producing) and fed extra grain rations (so that she has the resources to keep up production). The production of milk, whether she is feeding her kids or being milked by a human will decrease after as she progresses through her lactation, and it will get to a point, where no amount of extra grain will increase the yield.

Milk Record Keeping

You really should keep track of how much milk your doe produces. This way, you can see not only how much milk she is making, but you can quickly catch any health problem (because you will see if her milk production decreases). It's also fun to know how much your doe is making for you.

The standard way of keeping track of how much milk a does produces is by weight, not by volume.You can't say exactly how much a gallon of milk weighs because it varies depending on the protein and butterfat content in the milk, and that varies between breeds, particular animals and the point in their lactation. That is why you use weight and not volume when measuring milk. The general practice is to use the water equivalent, which is 8 pounds in one gallon, but it is understood that this cannot be exact. If you wish to estimate the volume of your doe's milk: 8 pounds of milk equals about one gallon.

I have a hanging scale that has two pointers. (See suppliers) One pointer is set at "0" and the other I calibrate to point to "0" when my empty milk bucket in hanging on it. I milk the goat into the bucket (see how to milk). When I'm done I hang the bucket with milk on the scale. The second pointer (the one calibrated to "0" when the bucket is empty) will read the correct weight of the milk. I pour the milk into a tote (now the milk bucket is empty) and I write the weight of the milk down on my record chart. I now repeat the process for the rest of the goats. Each time, pouring the milk into a tote and milking into an empty bucket. The last goat, I don't pour into the tote; I don't have to, because they are last.

Here is an example of the simple chart I use:

Milking record - July 2001
Date
Goldie
Max
Trouble
Notes
7/8
4.7 / 4.5
5.2
4.9
 
7/10
4.6 / 4.5
5
5.5
 
7/11
4.8 / 4.6
5.5
5.3
 

Here is how the chart reads:
On 7/8/2001 Goldie milked 4.7 pounds of milk in the morning and 4.5 pounds of milk in the evening.
Max was milked only once, in the morning and she produced 5.2 pounds of milk. She was not milked in the evening.
Trouble was milked only once, in the morning and she produced 4.9 pounds of milk. She was not milked in the evening.
In the Notes column, I would note any health problems or other information that may be pertinent.

At the end of each month I total up the milk produced for each doe.

How to dry off your doe (stop your doe from making milk)

Drying off means to stop your doe from making milk. There are various reasons you would want to do this. Maybe you don't want to milk her anymore. Maybe you sold her kid and she no longer needs to feed him. You can't just take a kid away from it's mother, who is in full lactation, without helping her dry off. If you just stop milking her, it could become very painful for her (because of the large amount of milk in her udder) and she runs the risk of developing mastitis.

First, know you doe. Every doe is different. Know what is normal for your doe.

Cut back on her grain, if possible (you may try withholding grain all together). If you are milking twice a day, start milking once a day. Do this for about two weeks or so. (You must know your doe and judge her particular situation as to when to actually cut back the milkings.) The pressure in her udder tells her to cut back on milk production. When I milk, I milk out fairly totally (I don't worry about stripping out- I never do). Be sure to dip her teats after milking.

When she is ready (you must be the judge of your doe), start milking her only once every other day. Do this for about 2 weeks. Then, milk her once every three days for about a week. By this time you should be able to stop milking her. She will still make some milk, but not much, and this milk will be reabsorbed into her system over time.

We never infuse antibiotic "dry treatments" such as Tomorrow, into the doe who is being dried off's udder. These dry treatments are supposed to prevent mastitis, but we don't like to medicate if unnecessary, since this only builds resistance. Like I said, we have never had a "dry" case of mastitis. Some people mistakenly believe that these "Dry treatments" will help dry the doe off. This is not the case at all: these treatment will not cause a doe to dry off. . The dry treatments contain only antibiotics in an oil base. They do not contain anything to dry the doe off.

Be aware as well that once the doe has stopped producing milk, it can still take quite a while for her to reabsorb the remaining milk in the udder. 

How long will it take to dry off a doe completely?

There is no way to answer this question exactly for a particular doe; every doe is different. The doe's health, condition, how long she has been lactating, genetics, her will to milk, all play a part. Some does might dry up quick (in weeks), some may take many months, and some may not want to dry off at all (very rare, but we have a doe who refused to dry up).

 

 

Milking
Milking once a day
Taking time off from milking

You do not have to milk twice a day.

You also do not have to take the kids away from their mother so you can milk her.

I normally take care of all the milking here at Fias Co Farm, I have a busy life, and just do not have the time to hand milk my does twice a day. Also, since we let our mother goats raise their own kids, we can use this to our advantage in helping us to only have to milk once a day.

In general, I do not milk the mother for the first two weeks; the kids are allowed all the milk they desire; this helps the kids get a good healthy start in life.  There are exceptions to this not milking for the first two weeks "rule":

  • If the mother were making so much milk that her udder was full and making her uncomfortable.  In this case I would milk her (once a day) to help her out and relieve the pressure.
  • If the kid(s) were only nursing one side of the udder.  In this case I would milk the mother (once a day) to even out the sides and make it easier for the kids to nurse the "full side".  I would also make an effort throughout the day to try to get the kids to nurse the side they are ignoring.

Here is one way how I handle milking once a day: Locking up the kids at night

Once the kids reach at least two weeks of age, we have a special kid stall where we can "put them up", thus keeping them away from their moms at night. This safe stall has fresh water, access to hay and grain, a dog house to sleep in, as well as some cinder blocks and maybe a ramp to play on. The moms don't really mind having their babies put up after they learn their babies are safe in this stall and after a while, I think they look forward to having a little time away from the children (wouldn't you?). The kids don't mind because they are with each other. The kids are introduced to grain at this time and eventually really want to go in the stall at night to get their dinner. After dinner they have a hay snack and then snuggle up together to sleep. In the morning, I milk mom (see how to milk) and then after she is milked, we let her kids out of the stall and they run right to mom. When you milk the mom, she will hold back milk to save for her kids, so don't worry that they aren't getting enough. (We don't milk out completely for the first week, so mom learns she needs to hold back.). We do not mind if the mother holds back some of her milk for her kids because the kids come first and we are just sharing the milk with them. The kids stay on their mom all day and so they, in effect, take care of the evening milking. They learn to make sure to get a good suck before heading back to their "goat baby stall" for the night.

Please note that if you decide to milk once a day and put the babies up, don't lock them up during the day. The kids need to spend the days with their herd and especially their mother learning how to be goats: how to graze, interact with others, play, etc... Goats sleep at night, so if your kids only get to nurse at night, they will keep their mother up and this will start to create a lot of stress on everybody.

Also be aware that when milking once a day, you are going to get less milk.  It's a give and take: you get the convenience of only milking once a day and so you have to be satisfied with less milk.  We get plenty of milk for our use milking once a day, but remember a lot of things effect how much milk you get from a particular doe. Our does are well cared for and bred to milk, so they give at about 1/2 gallon per milking and some even more with the milking once a day.

We continue this procedure for about 6-8 months and when it is time to dry off the mother in the Fall, we just stop putting up the kids and that is that; no more having to milk. The mother then naturally weans her kids and dries up when she decides it's time.

Here is a second way how I handle milking once a day: Leave the kid with the mom and milk more does

Yes, if you are willing to get less milk, you can milk your does once a day and leave the kids on them all the time. This is what I have done for the past few years and it works especailly well with does with just one kid. WHen they have more then one kid on then 24/7 they usually don't have much milk to share.   You will get less milk leaving the kid on the mom 23/7, but you'll also get bigger kids. Milk in the morning, the does with kids always seem to have more milk to share in the morning than in the evening when you leave the kids with them.

When I does kids leave for their new homes when they are two months old, I then continue to milk the mother once a day.  I get more milk then, since the kids and I'm not sharing anylonger.

 

Final note: No matter if my does have kids on them, or don't have kids on them, I still only milk once a day.  The doe adjusts and this works out just fine for both of us.

 

Question: So for the first week do you leave the mothers and kids together 24/7?

Answer: No, not really.  The kids get all the milk the first two weeks; we do not normally milk the mothers during this time. The moms and kids get to stay together in their own private stall for the first two weeks, BUT the mothers do get let out to graze without their kids for the first week. Please see the information provided here.

Question: Can I skip totally a day or two of milking?

Answer:  Sure, this is where the kids come in handy. Just don't lock them up at night, they will happily take care of milking their mother for you.  A day or so of this should not effect the doe's milk production at all.  You may or may not be able to get away with stopping milking even longer.  Keep in mind that the less milk required of the doe, the less milk she will make.  If the kids don't drink all the milk she has, and you are not milking her, her milk production may start to drop.  On the other hand, the kids may well drink all the milk she produces so that not only will the doe's production stay about the same, the kids will grow bigger.  Every situation (doe, kids, milk requirements, days you take off...) will be different

Question: Because you only milk once a day do you ever have issues with mastitis, especially with heavy milk producers?

Answer: No, we have never had a case of mastitis due to milking once a day.  We follow good milk handling procedure and holistic health care.  I have had does producing 6 pounds a milk for me once a day with no problems whatsoever.  Actually, the last case of mastitis we had in our herd was in April, 2002 when a doe freshened with mild mastitis. I cleared it up in 5 days with my Mastitis Salve and Immune Support Tincture.

Question: What if I sell the kids when they are ready to be weaned at two months of age, can I still milk once a day when the doe has no kids on her?

Answer: Yes, it has been my experience that even if a doe does not have kids on her, you can still only milk once a day. If we sell a doe's kids (once they are two months old), I will milk the doe twice a day for a about a week after the kids leave and then only milk her once a day, even though she has no kids on her. I have not had this be a problem at all.  The pressure of the milk in the doe's udder tells her to cut back on her milk production to accommodate the once a day milking. 

Question: What if the kids die in child birth?  How do you handle milking then?

Answer: If a doe looses her kids when they are born, I do not milk her; I let her dry off.   But then, we have only had two cases of loosing kids at birth and these were both premature, so this is not common for us.

Question: What if I don't let the mother goat raise her own kids, can I still milk once a day?

Answer: We let all our does raise their own kids.  We never take kids away from their mother at birth. But, I will say that no matter if my does have kids on them or don't have kids on them, I still only milk once a day and this works out just fine for me.

 

The Interesting story of Peepers:

In 2004, we had a doe, Peepers, who had her single boy adopted away when he was 2 months old. I milked Peepers twice a day for a week and then switched to milking her once a day. That summer she out milked all my does who had kids on them during the day. In the Fall, she refused to dry off (I usually dry all my does off in Oct.). I began milking her only once every other day and she continued to produce 1/2 gallon of milk (every other day) through the Winter.

In the Spring of 2005 I started milk her once a day (she miscarried at two months pregnant and had no kids that year) and I continued to milk her once a day throughout the Summer.  She gave 1/2 gallon milk everyday (once a day) through the Fall.  When Winter came around I tried to dry her off and she didn't want to and continued to give 3.5 pounds of milk per day..

In Jan. 2006, I began milking Peepers once every other day in hopes of drying her off before she kids, she continued to give 3 pound of milk per milking.

In March of 2006, after milking continually for TWO YEARS , being milked once a day (and sometimes just once every other day) I finally got Peepers to dry off so she could have two months off before she kidded. 

Way to go Peepers!


Milking & Udder Related Questions & Answers

Also See Udder Related Information here.

Can I stagger breeding so that I can have milk year 'round?

It is very difficult to stagger dairy goat breeding due to the fact that most dairy goats are seasonal breeders (see breeding). This is why goat milk is practically nonexistent in the winter. Commercial goat milk producers manipulate their goats hormonally to breed year 'round. Our goats naturally come into heat in the Fall, so this is when they are bred. They kid in the late Winter/Early Spring. I milk in the Spring, Summer and Early Fall and put up milk (by freezing or making cheese) for Winter use. Also, even if the doe were to come into heat off-season, you'd need a buck who was in rut. Yes, they are seasonal as well, and may not breed a doe off season. We have a buck who will not breed a doe, even if she is is raging heat, after December because he goes into rut only from Sept.- Dec..

 

How much milk could I expect from just one goat at each milking?

This is a very hard question to answer because it depends on so many variables, all of the which effects how much milk you can expect. These variables include:

  • The breed of doe- Different breeds produce difference amounts.
  • The age of the doe- Younger does do not make as much milk as older does. Milk production will increase with each freshening (kidding) until the doe is about 4 years old, then slowly decrease. I do not usually bother milking first fresheners because they usually can only produce enough for their kids.
  • The stage of lactation- Milk production will increase the first 2 months after freshening and then slowly decrease.
  • The breeding (genetics) of the doe- This is very important if you want a good milker. If she doesn't have it in her genes, nothing you do is going to get her to produce a lot of milk.
  • The heath care being given- a healthy doe will give more milk than a sick doe.
  • The food being given- the more food she gets, the more milk she will make (to a point). See feeding.

Generally you get what you pay for. Don't expect a $50 goat to give the quantity of milk of a $150-$200 doe. Don't buy a doe from the auction barn; buy a mature doe from a reputable breeder, who breeds quality dairy goats and you can easily expect to get at least 1 gallon a day (milking twice a day- 1/2 gallon per milking). Many well bred and properly treated does can give 2 gallons a day (milking twice a day). We breed for well temperamented, steady milkers; I only milk once a day (see milking once a day) and I can expect my mature LaMancha does to give at least 1/2 - 1 gallon per milking.

 

What can I do to increase milk production?

I do not like to "push" my does to produce more milk. I treat them well, give them good holistic health care, and am happy with the amount of milk they give me. I keep in mind that if I am not getting the large amount of milk I may want, there are many reasons this could be happening like age and genetics (see above).

If a doe is not producing enough milk to feed her babies, look for some underlying cause. A healthy dairy breed doe should be able to produce at least enough for two kids. If she has more than two, you may need to supplement the kids with milk from another doe, or whole cows milk from the grocery store.

There are herbs that can be used to stimulate milk production, this is especially handy if the doe kids with very little or no milk or cannot seem to make enough milk for her kids. I have developed my Mo'Milk Mix Herbal, click here for more details.

 

If we are milking our doe and she becomes pregnant again, do we need to stop milking at anytime during her gestation period?

Yes. A doe should have at least 2 months rest from milking before she freshens again. It takes a lot out of a doe to produce milk. She needs this time off so that her body can recover and concentrate on nourishing the kids forming inside of her.

Since we raise our goats in a natural manner, we let our does dry off when it is most natural for them to do so. This is when they are bred. This gives them 4-5 months rest. We miss the milk, but we feel it is in the best interest of the doe, and also, we enjoy the time off from milking. This way, we don't "burn out" and look forward to milking again (milking in January, when it is freezing cold is not really very fun).

 

Does a goat have to have babies to make milk?

Yes. A goat, like all mammals, must be bred, and have babies, to begin lactation. Milk is produced for the sole purpose of feeding the young.

Once a doe kids, do I have to milk the doe, or will she just dry up once the kids are weaned? I don't want to milk if I don't have to.

No, you do not have to milk a doe after she kids. Please read The Milking Cycle. If you do not want to milk the doe, then just leave the kids with her, and don't milk. It's very simple. There is absolutely no reason you have to milk unless you take the kids away from their mothers. The mother will naturally wean the kids when she feels the time is right (or she is just plain sick of them). The mother's will usually totally wean the kids once she gets rebred in the fall.

If you take the kids away from a mother that is lactating, then you have to milk her and/or dry her off. See Drying Off.

 

There are clumps in my does milk. Does this mean she has mastitis?

Not necessarily. The clumps could be hardened residue milk left unabsorbed from her last lactation. Please read more info about mastitis here.

 

There is blood in my doe's milk or the milk is pink. Does this mean she has mastitis?

Not necessarily. Please read more info about mastitis here.

 

How long does it take to milk a goat?

There is no way to really answer this questing regarding a certain particular doe because there are so many factors:

  • How much milk the doe has;
  • the size of her teats
  • the size of her orifices (hole in her teats)
  • the experience/skill of the person milking the goat
  • the behavior of the doe in the stand

..... what might take one person 5 minutes to milk could take another person 1/2 an hour.

 

There is blood in my doe's milk, should I be concerned? Can I still use the milk?

Blood in the milk can be a sign of mastitis, see the information provided here.  Test for mastitis using a California Mastitis Test to rule out mastitis. If the doe does have mastitis, treat her accordingly.  I do not recommend consuming mastitis infected milk, though it is ok for the kids to consume.

Blood in the milk can be a sign of injury to the udder.  This may or may not be of great concern depending on the nature of the injury.  I would suggest Mastitis/Udder Salve to aid in the healing of the udder.

The kids banging on their mother's udder can, at times cause slight injury and a bit of blood, though this is rare.  I would suggest Mastitis/Udder Salve to aid in the healing of the udder.

Making milk causes lot's of changes in the udder and you may find some blood or blood flecks in the milk of a newly fresh doe.  This is not of great concern and will work itself out.

I once had a heavy producing doe who always had a bit of blood in her milk; that was just "normal" for her. There was nothing really wrong with her.

If the blood is due to any reason other than mastitis, you can use and drink it ok.  You can let the blood settle to the bottom of the milk jar if you'd like and pour off the non bloody milk. If the blood is such that the milk is pink and the blood dose not settle, you can still use the milk.  It never really bothered me much with my doe that always had a bit of blood in her milk and I knew she was otherwise healthy.

 



 

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